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Dozens Detained In Belarus Amid Fresh Protests Against Tax On Jobless


Thousands Join Rallies Against 'Parasite Tax' In Belarus
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WATCH: Thousands Join Rallies Against 'Parasite Tax' In Belarus

MINSK -- Dozens of protesters were detained across Belarus on March 15 in the latest of a series of demonstrations against a tax on the unemployed in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, activists and rights groups said.

More than 2,000 demonstrators marched in the capital, Minsk, to protest what President Alyaksandr Lukashenka describes as a tax on "social parasites," while protests in other cities drew hundreds of people.

Recent protests against the tax have triggered a wave of arrests of opposition leaders and journalists, a crackdown criticized by the United States and the European Union.

Dozens of anarchists in Minsk were detained by security forces and were being held by police, according to one of the activists and the Viasna human rights organization.

Several others were detained amid protests in the eastern city of Mahilou and the western city of Hrodna.

Authorities detained more than 100 people in earlier protests across Belarus, dozens of whom have been handed jail sentences.

The protests have continued despite Lukashenka's March 9 announcement that collection of the tax would be suspended until 2018.

WATCH: RFE/RL's Belarus Service covered the protests live

The March 15 protests coincided with a national holiday celebrating the country’s constitution. In Minsk, where the crowd chanted for Lukashenka to "leave," the demonstration went off largely without incident.

At least 15 people described by rights activists as "anarchists," however, were detained and being held by police.

Uniformed police officers had instructed some Minsk protesters earlier in the day to remove face masks they were wearing, saying the masks violated statutes on public demonstrations.

Speakers at the rally had warned protesters not to fall for "provocations" that could lead to arrests by police.

Authorities officially allowed the Minsk march to go forward, though protests over the past week that were also sanctioned were followed by the arrests of political opposition figures.

Hundreds of protesters also turned out for the demonstrations in the eastern city of Mahilou and the western city of Hrodna.

In Hrodna, a local official addressed the crowd, inviting representatives of the protesters inside to speak with the city’s mayor.

The crowd shouted the woman down, however, demanding that the mayor come outside to speak with the protesters.

Rights activists say at least eight protesters were detained in Mahilou, and there were reports of detentions in Hrodna as well.

Opposition protests have previously been staged in Belarus, primarily following elections that Western governments deemed as neither free nor fair.

But those demonstrations have largely been confined to Minsk and other larger cities.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service
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